A Virtual Field Trip with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory

As NASA’s premier X-ray telescope, Chandra gives us a powerful tool to investigate hot regions of the Universe, from black holes, to exploding stars, colliding galaxies and more. Because X-rays are absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, Chandra must orbit in space to do its job.


On July 23, 1999, under the command of Col. Eileen Collins, the shuttle lifted off the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Its mission: to carry NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory into space.

"There is a common
goal in the end,
answering really big
questions about
our Universe."

Watch full Chandra 20th Anniversary film Play Video

Chandra has been helping scientists ever since to better understand these turbulent regions of space, answering fundamental questions about the origin, evolution, and destiny of our Universe.

The Chandra's Operations Control Center (OCC) in Burlington, MA,* oversees the Chandra spacecraft and ensures its health and safety.

Chandra staff design observing plans for efficient scheduling of the observatory. The time spent moving Chandra from looking at one target to another is minimized, while avoiding radiation from the Sun and making sure that Chandra stays healthy.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA, hosts the Chandra X-ray Center which operates the satellite, processes the data, and distributes it to scientists around the world for analysis.

Commands to Chandra are sent from the OCC to one of the three stations in Spain, Australia and California that make up NASA's Deep Space Network, for passing on to the spacecraft.

After carrying out its work, Chandra sends the scientific data and monitoring information back to the OCC, via the Deep Space Network- about every eight hours. Engineers monitor Chandra's stats, such as its temperatures and power consumption, like a doctor would review your own vital statistics at a checkup.

Watch the full video
Play Video

Chandra travels about a third of the way to the Moon at its farthest distance from Earth in order to get as much observing time of the X-ray Universe as possible.

Black and white image of Indian-American Nobel laureate,
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar

Chandra was named after the late Indian-American Nobel laureate, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (pronounced: su/bra/mon'/yon chandra/say/kar). Known to the world as Chandra (which means "moon" or "luminous" in Sanskrit), he was widely regarded as one of the foremost astrophysicists of the twentieth century.

A sign that says grab some popcorn and watch a movie

1. The X-ray telescope, whose mirrors focus X-rays from celestial objects

2. The science instruments which record the X-rays so that X-ray images can be produced and analyzed

3. The spacecraft, which provides the environment necessary for the telescope and the instruments to work.

Chandra carries four very sensitive mirrors nested inside each other. The energetic X-rays strike the insides of the hollow shells and are focussed onto electronic detectors at the end of the of the telescope. The mirrors on Chandra are the largest, most precisely shaped and aligned, and smoothest mirrors ever constructed.

22 years (so far) in operation

25 trillion bytes of data collected

3,00 trips around Earth

3.8 million lines of code written to operate, collect and analyze data

2.4 billion kilometers traveled

14 meters in length - about the size of school bus

63.5 hours to take one trip around Earth

Try it yourself!

Reach accross the stars
Brick by Brick
Binary Code activities
Recoloring the Universe

Let’s head out
from the Milky Way!

Planet Illustration
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Developed by the Chandra X-ray Center, at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, in Cambridge, MA, with funding by NASA under contract NAS8-03060   |   Privacy | Accessibility
NASA's Universe of Learning materials are based upon work supported by NASA under award number NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.   |   Privacy | Accessibility
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